Obama Backed Fitzgerald, Despite GOP Claims

Republican officials are working overtime, it seems, to draw the first political blood from President-elect Obama by connecting him to the arrest of his home-state governor, Rod Blagojevich. Much of this effort is driven by Obama's own refusal to weigh in on the matter (specifically, the extent of his own staff's contacts with Blagojevich) -- a stance he is perfectly entitled to take, but one that lets GOP officials bemoan a lack of transparency.

Some of the criticisms, however are truly devoid of sincerity, including one being pushed by Illinois State GOP Chair Andy McKenna. In an interview with Politico, the Illinois Republican questioned whether Obama would keep U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald at his post -- the implication being that, since Fitzgerald was now looking into Democratic corruption, Obama would want to get him out of the way.

A basic Lexis Nexis search, as pointed out by Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent, would have answered McKenna's question: Obama has said that he wants Fitzgerald to continue on the job.

There is, however, even more public information available that McKenna and others could have accessed. Here is a transcript from the Chicago Tribune in December 2006.

In a recent appearance before the Tribune's editorial board, I asked Obama if he thought Patrick Fitzgerald should remain on the job. Yes, Obama said, 'I think he's done a good job.' So, as president, would you reappoint him? 'I think we're jumping the gun on that. I would reappoint him,' Obama said, then appeared to reconsider, adding, 'Well, I don't know where he'll be.'

And here is one from a Tribune editorial board meeting March 2008:

TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD: When you were here several months, maybe a year ago, you said -- either here or, I forgot, outside or where outside, I think it was right here in the room--that if you were, you know, that you would reappoint or seek to maintain Patrick Fitzgerald as the United States attorney... Given the investigations that are going on now, if you're elected president."

OBAMA: I think I said it here in the boardroom...I still think he's doing a good job. Yes.

TRIBUNE: Would you keep him? And why would you keep him?

OBAMA: I think he has been aggressive in putting the city on notice and the state on notice that he takes issues of public corruption seriously.

At the very least, the Tribune itself assumed that Obama wanted to keep Fitzgerald on the job, asking Obama later in the interview whether making such a decision (as if it was a fait accompli) would "threaten or compromise" other political entities in the city.

In fact, if anyone wanted Fitzgerald out of the job, it was officials within the Republican Party. Recall that back in March 2007, the Washington Post got hold of internal Justice Department rankings -- which it sent to the White House -- labelling Fitzgerald among prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves." This, of course, was in the midst of Fitzgerald's investigation into the illegal leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name.

Meanwhile, the Tribune reported back in April 2008 that "Illinois Republican powerbroker Robert Kjellander" reportedly went to the White House to get Fitzgerald fired (as an effort to squash the Tony Rezko investigation). The person he reportedly turned to in order to make this happen was none other than Karl Rove, who was publicly ensnared in the Plame investigation. Both Kjellander and Rove denied the accusation.

So the moral of the story is that Obama seems more than content with keeping Fitzgerald at his post, and Republicans are wrong to suggest otherwise. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, does a mighty fine job riling members of both political parties.